Many advertisers — even large national ones — seem to be completely unaware of the environments in which they place their advertising. I don’t mean that in terms of the desired audience; rather, it’s in creating ads that will work with the audience and environment.

Case in point was Greatcall, the national advertiser offering a medical response system (ala “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”). I found their ad on the back cover of the large-print edition of Reader’s Digest magazine.  Given the demographics of the magazine — especially in its large-print version — the audience is well worth the extra money this company has shelled out.

The magazine features well-leaded-out 14- and 16-point type in a traditional serif face, placed in two columns divided by a rule. In other words, the designers understand their audience’s visual needs, and have a done a bang-up job of reaching out to them.

But Greatcall apparently hasn’t learned the same lesson. They’ve packed a ton of copy into an ad with what appears to be 10-point sans serif type. If that didn’t make it tough enough to read, there are multiple levels of subheadings, a couple boxes that each seem to make separate pitches, and a distracting photo of endorsee (and America’s Most Wanted host) John Walsh.

Don’t get me wrong: I love long copy and recognize its value in direct response advertising. It tends to be far more effective than short copy at delivering and completing a sales pitch. But if your audience’s eyes are so bad that they’ve chosen to read a magazine with giant-size type,  you don’t want to run an ad that will send them looking for a magnifying glass, or that will hurt their eyes.

What makes it even worse is that the copy isn’t particularly well-thought-out and could be a heck of a lot shorter. The unidentified narrator tells what could have been a compelling story about a friend’s stroke and inability to get help. But that story is buried in the middle of the first paragraph, and the ad’s primary visual is of an affluent-looking prematurely gray 50-year-old woman playing with a designer dog.

Why not lead with Helen’s story and include a photo of her or of a worried-looking senior? Instead of the weak headline “the medical alert service that costs less and goes where I go,” what about something that would draw the reader in — perhaps “When Helen had her stroke, I realized I needed 5Star”. A headline like that would trigger the reader to wonder what relationship there was between the stroke and whatever a 5Star is.

But even if they chosen to keep the concept intact, a layout that was kinder to the reader would probably be better appreciated — and far more effective.